Page-turners force you to go on to the next chapter immediately. You can’t stop yourself. The suspense keeps building. Questions don’t get answered. If a question does get answered, another question takes its place. You must keep reading.
Page-turners are full of tension and suspense. The story is full of anxiety provoking scenes. There’s even a plotting method for this. Outline your novel with anxiety provoking scenes first and then plot the story around those scenes.
Maybe you’ve already plotted your story. Find the tension building scenes after. Do you have chapters with no tension? Can you spice them up or do they need to be cut? Sound harsh? Boring chapters are where you lose readers. Avoid them.
Will the villain discover the hero’s hiding place? Will anyone survive the car accident? Is the crooked lawyer about to meet the protagonist? Will the police find the bloody ax?
Every chapter doesn’t need to end on a cliffhanger. Tension will be enough. Don’t create a high stress moment for the sake of ending the chapter. Rather, keep writing until the stressful event happens on its own. Wait until either the event is about to happen or it just did.
These chapter endings don’t need to be all drama, of course. Anything that changes can be a cue for a chapter end. The time must now leap ahead. The place must change for the next part of the story. The point of view character is changing. The action is becoming more intense or winding down. Circumstances have changed. A character has changed sides or their way of looking at an important problem has changed.
The end of a chapter comes when something is now different or about to become different. It’s not just “Oh, well. We’ve got about 15 pages there. Time for a new chapter.” There needs to be a reason to end the chapter and, when it’s a good reason, it will make your reader want to continue immediately.
Increase tension at every opportunity. When there’s action to be had, delay it for as long as you can. As the action happens, drag it out. “Oh, the agony of it all. Why is the author making us suffer through this? I’ve got to find more books by this writer.”
When something is going to happen, let there be another action leading to it. For example, Bob doesn’t just reveal that he brought back a gun. Instead he tells a story about being robbed and following the robber to get his wallet back only to knock the guy unconscious and take his gun.
Character revelations can also raise the tension. Luke doesn’t just sell smuggled cigarettes, he’s also an undercover cop. His life is riskier than the reader had thought. The same goes for the insurance adjuster who also takes on jobs for organized crime murdering people and making it look like suicide. Same again for the young mother who can’t make ends meet, but is found to be working as a high class call girl and blowing the profits on cocaine.
With enough revelations, you will have a winning story. Above there was a smuggler but cop, an adjuster but hit-man, and mother but hooker. These twists are good. Double twists are even better. How about an insurance adjuster who is actually a tobacco smuggler for a gang but is actually an undercover cop. Two revelations. Insurance adjuster but crook but cop.
Everybody puts on a mask with strangers. Within your story, the important masks get torn off. There are masks hiding what’s really going on sometimes too, especially if there is crime or something else people want to hide. For example, an extramarital affair, a return to an old vice, or a secret obsession with an odd hobby.
It’s All Falling Apart
As the story gets closer to the end, the amount of tension needs to become intense. Unbearable. Some early problems are gone, but the new problems are much worse. Character revelations are one way this happens. Another is the removal of good characters who could help. The removal of bad characters also increases the tension as the main antagonist becomes more aggressive because of the loss of resources.
You want everything that could possibly go wrong to go wrong in the final chapters. Additional unexpected bad luck is good. Let the villain hire outside help. Let the police go on strike. Let the dam break. Let the zombie apocalypse begin. The situation becomes hopeless for the protagonist but everything gets worked out by the end of the novel.
That’s a rough idea of what an ideal page-turner should look like. You don’t want an exact formula because every book is different. Now you have some ideas for making your own novel into a page-turner.
Article by Ivan Izo.